France: Crucial Need for Macron to Focus on Rights

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French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech after his election victory in Paris, April 24, 2022.
© 2022 Sipa via AP Images

(Paris) – It is crucial for President Emmanuel Macron to make human rights a priority of both his domestic and his foreign policy in his second term, Human Rights Watch said today.

Based on available results for the April 24, 2022 runoff presidential election, Macron received 58.5 percent of the votes, while Marine Le Pen received 41.4 percent and conceded defeat. Twenty-eight percent of eligible voters did not vote, a significant increase from the 2017 runoff between the same two candidates. The gap between the two was also significantly narrower, with the far right securing its highest percentage of the vote in any national or local French election.

“For Macron to meaningfully govern for all, as he announced, he needs to pursue policies that make human rights a reality for all,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “The surge of support for the far right makes it even more imperative for Macron to counter xenophobia, discrimination, and intolerance in France.”

The landmark percentages of people who voted for the far right or did not vote are widely seen as an expression of concern by a significant part of the population about social inequalities and the precariousness of their own situations, as well as a deep mistrust in political leaders and their ability to provide adequate responses. In this context, it is more urgent than ever for President Macron and his government to tackle more vigorously social and economic injustices, exclusion, and inequalities, while strengthening democratic governance and respect for rights, freedoms, and the rule of law.

The international situation should also lead Macron to make human rights a focus of his diplomacy. The challenges notably include the war in Ukraine and other conflicts marred by serious violations against civilians, the rise of autocrats in Europe and elsewhere, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the most vulnerable, and the global climate crisis.

During his first term, Emmanuel Macron often failed to live up to his promises and the strong expectations regarding human rights at home and abroad.

Human rights institutions and organizations including Human Rights Watch have criticized the French authorities’ discriminatory police checks targeting Black and Arab men and boys. Another source of concern is the often abusive treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, particularly in northern France and at the French-Italian border.

Human Rights groups and UN experts also have raised serious concerns about the proliferation of sweeping counterterrorism laws, including the incorporation of temporary emergency measures into ordinary law. This has been done with scant regard for their disproportionate restrictions on human rights, including on freedoms of speech, assembly, association, and religion. And these counterterrorism measures have disproportionately affected and stigmatized Muslims. The French authorities have also been criticized for abuses by security forces during protests.

Macron’s first presidency’s selective human rights diplomacy has damaged France’s credibility. France has to its credit played a leadership role in the international response to Russian forces’ apparent war crimes in Ukraine. It has shown leadership on humanitarian access in Syria and the fight against impunity for the use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

But France has also pursued arms sales to Saudi Arabia and made a landmark arms deal with the United Arab Emirates despite repeated alleged war crimes against civilians in Yemen. France’s unconditional support to Egypt did not waver. Macron gave Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest award, even though Sisi oversees the worst repression in Egypt’s modern history.

Macron and his government have made the protection of the rule of law in the European Union a priority of the French presidency of the EU Council, but concrete progress remains to be seen. During France’s presidency, EU scrutiny of Poland and Hungary under Article 7 – the EU-treaty procedure dealing with EU member states that breach of rule of law obligations – should move ahead quickly. And France should support the swift use of the mechanism conditioning access to EU funds on respect for the rule of law.

France committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and Macron made the fight against climate change a priority of his previous term. But the country remains one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the EU and the High Council for the Climate has deemed the government’s efforts insufficient and too slow. France provides more fossil fuel subsidies than it allocates for renewable energy, which is driving the climate crisis that directly threatens rights’ protections.

Macron’s government also needs to build on progress it made in advancing women’s rights and prioritize combating femicide and eliminating sexual violence and harassment in the workplace.

“President Macron’s second term should be an opportunity to truly make human rights a priority in his national and international policy,” Jeannerod said. “Macron needs to demonstrate how democracy strongly rooted in respect for the fundamental rights of all and the rule of law is able to deliver and respond to major national and global issues, and in doing so counter the rise of the far right.”

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